Education Commentary


February 06, 2002 4 min read

Research on Gender: It’s Not ‘Zero Sum’

Your article “Boys to Men,” (On Assignment, Jan. 23, 2002) provides a valuable overview of recent research on boys’ problems and struggles in school. However, the article implies an opposition between earlier research on girls’ experiences in school and new research on boys’ outcomes.

The American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, whose 1992 study (“How Schools Shortchange Girls”) you cite, believes, to the contrary, that research on the experiences of both sexes in education is complementary rather than in competition. Indeed, as many of the researchers you describe would agree, much of the current research on boys builds on a solid base of research in the 1980s and 1990s that trained our eyes on issues of gender and achievement in the first place.

To be sure, boys face problems in school, including higher rates of diagnosis for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and, by some measures, lower performance on reading tests, to name two. Yet we do not believe that research on gender and education is a zero-sum game, where there is room for only one “victim” in the schools. In fact, last year, the AAUW held a symposium, “Beyond the ‘Gender Wars': A Conversation about Girls, Boys, and Education,” at which experts on both boys and girls agreed that gender equity does not occur if girls win and boys lose, and vice versa. Rather, it is about finding approaches that work for both.

It is critical that all researchers and educators remain aware of the unique challenges that both boys and girls face—academically and socially—in schools. The bodies of research on both boys and girls present different sides of the same problem; namely, differences in well-being, achievement, and educational outcomes based on sex.

Clearly, we need to encourage more cross-gender dialogue in our schools, faculties, communities, and families and when it comes to educational outcomes, affirm that we must achieve equity for both girls and boys.

Jacqueline Woods
Executive Director
American Association of
University Women
Washington, D.C.

Pennsylvania Needs Funding Reform

To the Editor:

In your Jan. 9, 2002, issue, you report that Gov. Mark S. Schweiker of Pennsylvania and Mayor John F. Street of Philadelphia have agreed to turn over control of that district’s 264 schools to a city-state commission and to infuse $120 million in new money annually into the district (It’s Official: State Takes Over Philadelphia Schools”).

By agreeing to a quick and, unfortunately, inadequate financial fix for Philadelphia, while ignoring hundreds of other communities around the state, both rural and urban, Gov. Schweiker is missing the real problem: the state’s shameful way of paying for public education.

The problem with the way the state pays for public schools is simple: Local taxpayers pay too much, and the state doesn’t pay enough. Statewide today, the state pays roughly one-third of the cost, while local taxpayers pay about two-thirds. In 1974, the state paid as much as 55 percent of the total cost.

It’s getting harder for the governor to dodge the school funding issue. In fact, since he and the Philadelphia mayor made their announcement, two very influential groups have spoken out in favor of school funding reform in Pennsylvania. On Jan. 17, the Pennsylvania state board of education recommended support for tax reform and adequate school funding. A day later, the business group Greater Philadelphia First announced its support for school funding reform. This marked the first time that one of the four largest business groups in the state has called for statewide funding reform, moving from reliance on property taxes to taxes at the state level.

As these groups and many others have recognized, we need to solve the Philadelphia schools crisis, but we also must meet the needs of children around the state. The governor and the legislature can start by adopting a new funding formula that provides adequate funding for every child in Pennsylvania, regardless of where he or she lives.

Timothy Potts
Pennsylvania School Reform Network
Harrisburg, Pa.

A Parent Wanting Catholic Education

To the Editor:

Having read your article on sending poor, underachieving students from public schools to private and Roman Catholic schools (“Public Debates, Private Choices,” On Assignment, Dec. 5, 2001), I think the idea is wonderful and would solve the current overcrowding in the public schools.

I want desperately to send my own daughter to a Catholic school, and am looking for funding sources to make that happen.

When I was a child, I went to Catholic school part time (every Wednesday). I know from experience that many kids today would do a lot better in school—would even perhaps excel—in a different kind of environment.

Children who are having a hard time in school may just need better teachers, smaller classrooms, interesting curricula, and a disciplined environment. They need a place where they can talk more about science and history and less about clothes and dating.

Jeannie Coicou
Brooklyn, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2002 edition of Education Week as Letters